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The Test: The areas Robert Griffin III most needs to fix heading into the 49ers game

The Test asks two Post specialists to take unique looks at a Redskins issue leading up to each game. Neil Greenberg of our Fancy Stats blog runs the numbers; Separately, Mark Bullock gives it the eye test. 

Neil Greenberg’s take:
Ask five people what is wrong with Robert Griffin III and you may get six different answers, but one common thread will be “He holds the ball too long.”

According to the game charters at Pro Football Focus, he takes the longest to attempt a pass (2.83 seconds) among all quarterbacks who have taken at least 25 percent of their teams snaps this season.

Perhaps it worked during his rookie year when he was more mobile, or the league didn’t have enough film on him to make the necessary adjustments, but as you can see below, the longer Griffin holds on to the ball, the less effective he becomes.

Mark Bullock’s take:
Griffin and the Redskins have found a new low. There have been questions about his leadership, accusations about his work ethic, social media wars with teammates. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to go for Griffin and the Redskins this year. After the spat with Shanahan, Washington opted to keep Griffin as their future over Shanahan and hired Jay Gruden to develop him in the pocket.

But after a full offseason of work and hype, the Redskins are out of the playoff picture with six games left to see if Griffin is the guy they want to go forward with. Yes, it’s a new offense and he had the ankle injury that kept him out for a significant amount of time. But whatever the excuses are; he’s in his third season in the NFL and having problems with the fundamental aspects of being a professional quarterback.

Griffin is struggling with anticipating throws. As Neil wrote, Griffin often holds onto the ball for too long, waiting for the receiver to break open. He should be anticipating the receiver making his cut, but instead is inviting the pressure to arrive by holding onto the ball.

Washington targeted wide receiver Pierre Garcon on the above play.

The Buccaneers’ linebackers are drawn in by a play-action fake. This creates space in behind them for Garcon to run into. Griffin looks to Garcon and should quickly anticipate the throwing lane.

But instead, Griffin holds onto the ball, waiting for Garcon to be in between the two dropping linebackers. The ball should be out at this point in the play and Garcon should be picking up 20-plus yards. But Griffin’s hesitancy gives the defensive line time to work into the backfield. Griffin begins to look to other targets as a result of the pressure and ends up scrambling.

Anticipation was far from his only issue. Gruden was highly critical of Griffin, citing footwork among his fundamental struggles.

“His footwork was below average. He took three-step drops when he should have taken five. He took a one-step drop when he should have taken three on a couple of occasions. That can’t happen.”

This was a third-and-13 play early in the fourth quarter. The Redskins have all four receivers running deeper routes that correlate with a deeper drop from the quarterback to help everything time up properly.

Griffin takes one big drop step from the snap.

But then hardly gets any further away from the line of scrimmage than that. He takes one small stutter step before stepping forward.

Straight away he steps forward into a throw, winding up and ready to release. But not one receiver is even looking back for the ball yet. The timing from Griffin is horribly off. His drop put him out of sync with his receivers, and Griffin panics. He hurriedly checks it down to running back Roy Helu Jr.

But had Griffin used the correct footwork and synced up his drop with his receivers’ routes, he would have found that he had three receivers running deep against one deep safety.

Griffin is in his third season. Maybe his development is slowed because he didn’t play in a “pro-style” offense in college and the injures have taken their toll for sure. But this is pretty basic. Griffin used to be heavily criticized as a one-read quarterback. Here, he’s not even making that first read.

Griffin managed to get out of that play without losing yards. But later on, he wasn’t so fortunate.

Again, Griffin is on his first read. The Buccaneers are in “Tampa 2” coverage, with Garcon working underneath. Griffin looks right at him but doesn’t pull the trigger. A few seconds later, he’s sacked for a three-yard loss.

The other tendency Griffin has is to take off running when he has open receivers.

This play came early in the game. Tight end Jordan Reed is split out wide and runs a “dig” route.

As Griffin looks to throw, he feels pressure arriving.

Griffin does a nice job helping out his offensive lineman, eluding the oncoming rush.

But then Griffin immediately tucks the ball and begins to run for the first down himself. He has five yards between himself and the line of scrimmage. As he approaches the line of scrimmage, he should be looking down the field for targets to throw to. He has Garcon crossing the deep middle of the field, DeSean Jackson running free down the sideline and Andre Roberts breaking outside to the sideline. Griffin should at least have seen Roberts and dumped it off to him. But instead he runs it himself.

Here’s another example of Griffin not throwing to open receivers.

The Redskins call for corner-flat route combinations on either side. Coach Lovie Smith and the Buccaneers are known for being a “Tampa 2” defense, which is vulnerable to the corner route and in the flats. So the Redskins attack those weaknesses.

They get the exact look they are after. Tampa Bay is in the coverage that Washington wanted, and Griffin has a clean pocket with just about all of his receivers open and available. The easiest throw would be the corner route to Jackson to Griffin’s right, but really, he should be able to hit any one of his five eligible receivers.

But despite having a clean pocket and open receivers, Griffin opts to scramble. He ends up running right into the path of a stunting defensive lineman.

Griffin gets a throw away before he’s hit, avoiding the sack. But he still takes yet another hit and can’t complete the pass. This should have been another big play, or at the very least he should have checked it down to Alfred Morris over the middle if he was uncertain.

All of these plays aren’t good for Griffin. But perhaps one of the most damning plays came on a quick screen to Jackson in the fourth quarter.

Griffin receives the snap and then proceeds to jump-pass off his back foot to throw the ball to Jackson. The lack of simple mechanics, planting his feet and aiming them at his target forces the ball to fall short of Jackson.

The other plays were poor, but this is completely inexcusable. There is no reason Griffin shouldn’t have been able to set his throw and complete a quick screen to Jackson in the flat.

Griffin now faces an uphill battle to prove the Jay Gruden and the Redskins that he’s still their franchise quarterback; the guy worth all those picks they gave up for him. Before the bye week, he looked like he took a step forward against the Vikings, although he did have some bad plays that strike a strong resemblance to some of the plays above. But against one of the worst teams in the NFL, he took a big step backwards. If he is to prove his worth to Gruden and the Redskins coaching staff, he’ll have to play a lot better than he did against Tampa Bay, and he cannot afford another performance anywhere near as bad as this one.

Neil Greenberg runs Fancy Stats, where numbers meet news. Mark Bullock is The Insider’s Outsider, sharing his impressions without the benefit of access to the team. He also posts here.

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